Open Source

I don't usually post the source material I use for my paintings. There is always the risk that it will ruin the magic of the illusion I'm trying to create. But this is a studio blog after all, and maybe just this once, I feel compelled to pull back the curtain for those who want to take a peek.

The finished painting is entitled "An Apparition of Two". It's 42" x 55", oil on canvas. This is an installation shot from a recent exhibition.

"An Apparition of Two", 42" x 55", oil on canvas, Amanda Clyne (copyright 2012)
The composition is a merging of two images, both of which I dissolved through my inkprint process that I've described before. The original images are from a fashion editorial from the March 2010 issue of Vogue (Russia) and Gustav Klimt's "Mäda Primavesi" (1912). It was a weird twist of fate that I even tried to layer the images together, but once I did, the relationship between the two images became immediately and eerily apparent.

I'm intrigued by the ambiguity that results in the final painting. There is a strange merging of faces, of eras and of media. The two faces become an unstable apparition of a girl that appears no longer young yet not quite grown. Mirroring Klimt's iconic image of the past, the painting catches a photographed pose of the present in its reflection. Photograph and painting come together in a vulnerable exchange of emotion and empathy.

It was the first time I painted with glazes of color, and the richness of the surface surprised me. I want to push that more in the works to come, and hopefully continue to find fated pairings of source imagery. I may not share the source material again in the future though. So for now, I hope this peek behind the curtain enhances and doesn't detract from your experience of the painting.

Sheer Possibility

Here is a sneak peak of my new painting in the studio. It's a diptych. I'm still working on the second panel (cropped out of the photo). For some reason a couple of the fragments have been painfully slow to dry, so it's taking a little longer to finish than I had hoped. It will be exhibited at the big 60 Painters show that is opening in two weeks.

The painting is a subtle shift from my previous work, but I'm excited by the possibilities. In my last show, one of my favorite works was "Veiled", an image that seemed to be dissolving into white. I liked the ethereal quality of the work, and I've been wanting to paint a new series with a similar quality -- sophisticated greys (Morandi is one of my painting heroes), and an image that is more haunting than bold. The greyed palette that I've used here with subtle bleeds of color, along with the almost vibrating transparencies give this painting a whole new dimension. It was good to try this idea first with a more minimal source image, but I'm intrigued by what I might concoct with more extravagant source material. I have this idea that I want my work to express a form of Baroque Minimalism -- an oxymoron, I know, but it doesn't mean it's not possible. In fact, I'm quite certain that it is.

In The Flesh

I admit I am slightly tortured by the idea that 99% of the people who will see my work will not be seeing the real thing.  They will see it on a screen with different brightness and color settings than I see on my screen, and they will have to imagine how this little digital avatar might look in the flesh, so to speak.  And indeed, "in the flesh" seems the apt expression.  They will not see how the light reflects off the oily mushy paint strokes, how the color changes and shifts depending on whether the sun is beaming through the window or dimmed incandescent lights are quietly liberating it from the dark.  They will not see how big it is, how each face is larger than life size, how the painting stares at you as you wander around it, how the whole painting relates to their body.  They will not be able to look at it from different angles, from different distances, to move around the painting and experience the image collapsing into abstract details as they approach closer and closer.

Walter Benjamin described the work of art has having an "aura", and famously warned of the consequences of the future omnipotence of the reproduction.  California artist Robert Irwin never wanted his paintings to be photographed, since "Irwin felt that a photograph could capture none of what the painting was about and everything that it was not about.  That is, a photograph could convey image but not presence."*  For me, that seems true of all art that manifests itself as a physical object.  I heard Chuck Close say one time that the modern perspective of the history of art was not an examination of the history of painting but merely the history of slides -- frozen, stale reproductions, where all emphasis is given to image and little else.

One of the greatest compliments I can get for my work is, "it looks so much better in real life!".  I love having that experience myself -- of anticipating a particular experience with a work that I've seen online and then just being blown away when I get to see the actual work.  I had that visceral thrill most recently when I went to see Mark Grotjahn's spectacular exhibit in New York at Anton Kern this past summer.  Unreal.  So real.  Of course, too often, it can go the other way -- sadly, some paintings are much more impressive in reproduction.  I'll refrain from giving examples.

Here are a few different versions of one of my recent paintings ("Veiled", 48" x 28", oil on canvas).  Each image is "accurate" according to particular screens I have viewed them on.  I don't know what you see.  Each one of them is only an idea of the painting.  I wish it could be more.  I wish you could see the real thing -- in the flesh.

* From Lawrence Weschler's amazing book on Robert Irwin, "Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees"

Too Much

I have too much to say. Way too much. So much that I have found myself unable to say anything at all. I've written countless unfinished blog entries, all of them totally inadequate ramblings. I have so many ideas lately, inspired by so many disparate things, I can't find the time to sort through them and articulate what it all means for me and my work. As the ideas pile up, I don't want to post my latest finding without catching up on the older ones first, but I can't seem to find the time to catch up, so the ideas pile up and pile up. I no longer know where to begin. The longer I leave it, the more the ideas shift and move, overlapping and looping around each other. They feed off each other, growing bigger and more complicated, becoming so thoroughly intertwined that I can no longer find a way to disentangle them into neat, compartmentalized postings.

I know the ideas are working their way through my paintings. I can see the influence in my latest compositions. But I continue to experience an unshakable anxiety that if I do not find the time to sort through, synthesize and articulate my responses, the ideas will start to lose their potency and will begin to suffocate within the tangled mess of incomplete arguments, fragmented thoughts and forgotten connections.

I've had strep throat this week, so my mind is fuzzy and my body aches. I'm exhausted with illness but wired from boredom, and the combination is pushing me perilously to the edge. More often than not (and especially at times like this when I'm sick), I find myself frustrated by the gap I experience between the possibilities I see in my mind and my ability to execute them in a sufficient time such that the products of my efforts don't feel like old news when they are finally complete. The speed of my body can't seem to keep up with the speed of my mind. I recently read a book about the California artist Robert Irwin (a goldmine of inspiration that I have been working through in my recent series of unpublished and unresolved blogs) in which he laments our culture's emphasis on performance:
"We are past-minded, in the sense that all of our systems of measure are developed and in a sense dependent upon a kind of physical resolution. We tag our renaissances at the highest level of performance, where it's really clear to me that once the question is raised, the performance is somewhat inevitable, almost just a mopping-up operation, merely a matter of time. " (from Lawrence Weschler's "Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees", page 90.)
I so get that! In the last couple of months, I feel myself caught in a deluge of questions that my work just can't keep up with. I know I must accept temporary resolutions, whether in order to complete a painting, post a blog entry, or write an artist statement. But be forewarned: these works are not definitive statements, they are merely a series of still inadequate working hypotheses.

It makes me return to my favorite quote that I posted on August 1, 2010 by Arnold Glimcher about how artworks are but a series of clues to the art that ultimately resides in the mind of the artist. But even that assumes that the art is fully formed in the artist's mind, and I'm not convinced that this is always so. I certainly love the idea that the art is already there, somewhere inside me, and that all I need to do is sort through the mess, excavate through the comfortable and the obvious, and free it from deep within. In fact, in moments of inspiration, like when I was reading Weschler's book on Irwin, the ideas strike me not as foreign entities, entering my consciousness from somewhere unknown and external, but much more like liberated P.O.W.s, at long last released into my thought processes from that dark, secluded place inside my mind that is otherwise inaccessible to my available modes of expression. I love that art can be the source of such liberation.

I could go on and on. There's so much more to say. I feel like I should end with some definitive conclusion to all this. But alas, I have none.

Portraits of a Sensation

photograph, Amanda Clyne ©

I am not a storyteller. My curiosity in the world lies not in reconstructing a nebulous past or imagining a fantastical future, but in experiencing the pregnant intensity of a living moment. When I am drawn to something, whether a person, building, object or image, I place the world on pause to probe the source of my empathic fascination. I delve deeper into the experience, not by inventing accompanying narratives or researching encyclopedic details, but by envisioning ways to embody the moment and prolong the sensation. Art can fulfill this desire in me, either through the creation of my own work or through my experience of the work of others.

Growing up, I found that the art that spoke most profoundly to my sensibility was in the modern works of the 20th century, particularly those of abstraction. While I appreciated the skill and complexity of the great works of the old masters, their dramatic form of storytelling did not move me in the way that a de Kooning, Twombly or Agnes Martin work did. The more narrative I perceived, the less I felt engaged with it. I didn't even like reading. Stories just didn't do much for me.

So imagine my surprise when a few years ago my painting began to move away from abstraction and toward representation, of the human body no less! But my paintings are not at all about storytelling or even description. Is what I paint really representation? Is the use of the figure determinative of whether a work is representational?

I am beginning to find an answer in Daniel Smith’s erudite introduction to Deleuze’s book “Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation”. Without taking on the grand debate between Modernism and Postmodernism, I find myself drawn to Deleuze’s distinction between “figuration” and “the Figure”, as his concept of the Figure seems to offer a third category of imagery that seeks to challenge the conditions of representation while lying somewhere between representation and abstraction. Smith explains that for Deleuze, “figuration” is a form that is intended to represent a particular object to the viewer (ie. representational), whereas “the Figure” is a form intended to elicit a sensation from the viewer through more direct means, such as in the work of Francis Bacon. In my own work, the insidious melancholy and pathos I evoke is far from the violent rage in Bacon’s work, but I find I share with Bacon, as Smith writes, “the problem he shares with Cézanne: How to extract the Figure from its figurative, narrative, and illustrational links? How to “paint the sensation”…?”

For my last solo show, my exhibition “Illusive” was sub-titled “Portraits of an Image”, a kind of statement of purpose to clarify that I did not consider the paintings to be representational portraits of a woman. Perhaps I need to expand that idea, and conceive of my next paintings as not just portraits of an image, but as portraits of a sensation.

A Gamble

Painting (or perhaps more broadly, making art) is nothing more than a series of decisions, big and small, grandiose and minute. So many decisions must be made, and then once made bravely and boldly, they must be re-thought, re-considered, re-done. It's easy to become overwhelmed. (Have I mentioned I'm overwhelmed?) It's certainly exhausting. To learn, past decisions that worked must be remembered and re-used to facilitate the next series of decisions toward something even more difficult or complex. But to move work forward, they must also be questioned, challenged. But which ones do you hold on to in the name of a lesson learned, a skill achieved, an idea expressed clearly, and which ones do you discard as inadequate, unsuccessful, or no longer interesting? How can you be sure you know which one is which?

Lately I feel as if I'm sitting at a slot machine, with a million possible choices whirling around inside. With a random but decisive move, I produce one result that reflects some combination of all those choices, and with each successive attempt, I produce new, slightly varied results. But it amazes me that it can be the change of just one choice that makes the difference between hitting the jackpot and losing your quarter. I know I can't hit the jackpot every time, but I'm tirelessly trying to achieve enough winning combinations that at the very least, I get to keep playing the game.

Perfect Enough

Yesterday, a friend of mine asked me if there was a difference between searching for something that cannot be found, and searching for something that doesn't exist. A weird question, I know. But as I began to play with the philosophical angles, I quickly (as I always do) veered toward painting.

In the context of painting, I like to think there is a difference. I think in some ways I am always striving for a perfect painting - not THE perfect painting, but the perfect realization of the current painting or idea that I imagine. Can it be found? Does it even exist? I'd like to think that it does exist, even though I'm sure it can never be found. But that does not deter my efforts in the search. Everyday, at the end of my work day when I look at the part that I've completed, I wonder how differently it would have turned out if I had painted that part yesterday, or tomorrow, or the next day. What decisions would I have made differently, how would my hand have moved, which brushes would I have chosen, would the colors have been brighter, duller, warmer, cooler. As a painter, the vision I have in my head for a painting is clear but still nebulous. Even working from photographic sources, the vision I have for a piece doesn't fully exist until I paint it. Then maybe it satisfies that vision, and maybe it doesn't. Maybe it's better than I could have imagined. Maybe it's better because I couldn't have imagined it. But I'm always fascinated with the idea that I could paint a certain image a hundred times, and each time it would be different. And which one would be perfect? But once that first painting is done, then it's found. It exists. Imperfect, but fully realized. But the possibilities still haunt me. I want to paint every painting again - fix it, make it better, live through the search all over again, see if/how/how much it would be different with just one more endless try. But there are a million other paintings to search for, so I move on.

I like to think painting is special in this respect, but I'm probably wrong about that. Photographers must struggle with the same choices - one split-second to the next captures a different, irretrievable moment. You have to pick one, averaging out their strengths and weaknesses. Is there such a thing as a perfect moment?

When I paint, I consider it complete when I believe I've achieved the best result possible in that moment and believe that doing more is more likely to ruin it than improve upon it. Some might call that intuition, but I don't. For me, "intuition" sounds like I can tap into some inner voice that has the "right" answer. I hate that idea. I have a million voices in my head all the time, the angels, the devils, the sloths, the philosophers, the wounded, the dreamers. It's hard to know who to listen to sometimes. Sometimes I listen to one over the other. But what I am working toward is that moment when they all seem to agree - when I get that rush of adrenalin, or happiness, or excitement, or ecstasy, or whatever you want to call it - a rush that tells me to stop. It is complete. A few stragglers in my brain may want me to go back in and see if I can make it even better, but armed with the comfort of majority rule, I resist. It's good. It's good enough.

That sounds like I'm only striving for "good enough". But the fun part for me is that with each painting, "good enough" slowly becomes closer to that ever-elusive perfect - I want more and I expect it to be better. My skills develop, my vision expands, I have to rise to the new occasion. And then what was good enough for painting 2, just isn't good enough for painting 10. I'm capable of more, I want more, and a thrill occurs each time I see the glimmer that I can have more. It makes me endlessly curious, if not impatient, for the next painting, and painting 112, 256, and 759. The challenge is to not be defeated by what constitutes "perfect" in the given moment, to have a little faith, and to just keep painting.